Some non-Muslims think or are made to believe that the pilgrimage to Ka'bah is purely a pagan rite or one form of idol-worship, that it was being practiced by the Arab idolaters before Islam and that Islam borrowed it from them.
This assumption is further aided by the fact that the Ka'bah itself had been a temple housing no less than three hundred and sixty idols. Nevertheless, this is a pure conjecture belying facts and figures. For it was not the idolaters of Makkah, but Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham - 'alaihi assalam), who had initiated and established the holy pilgrimage thereof ages ago.
On the contrary, it was these very idolaters, the degenerate descendants of Abraham and Ishmael ('alaihima assalam) who had defiled Allah's Holy Ka'bah into a huge pantheon. It was these rank idolaters who had injected pagan rites into the purely Islamic pilgrimage laid down by Prophet Abraham (PBUH), one of the greatest worshippers of Allah.
All honor is due to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the seal of the prophets and the last of Ibrahim's Line of Prophethood, who first swept clean the Holy Ka'bah from its heathen idols. It was he again who restored the original pilgrimage to its pristine purity.
The Muslims are, in fact, the true followers of the Religion of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH), the grandfather of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), where pilgrimage to Makkah is a notable heritage as well as an important fixture of the religion. How different could these facts be from the Non-Muslims' random conjecture?
Building the House and Proclaiming the Hajj:
This is how Allah declared to Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) regarding his Sacred House after showing him the site thereof:
" And Remember when We showed Ibrahim (Abraham) the site of the Holy House (the Ka'bah) at Makkah saying: Associate not anything in worship with Me, [La Ilaha ill-Allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah - Islamic Monotheism], and sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it, and those who stand up for prayer, and those who bow and submit themselves with humility and obedience to Allah), and make prostration in prayer." (Qur'an 22:26)
Ibrahim (PBUH) is being himself ordained in this verse to keep perfectly away from idolatry. He is being told, as well, to sanctify the House of God from all kinds of impurities, especially from that of idol-worship. Then follows the two-fold purpose for which that House was being built: First, is its being the center of Tawaf for those who compass it round, and second is its being the prayer-place for those who pray therein their daily prayers.
This is as much as to say that the Tawaf and the pilgrimage do depend upon the house of God, as much as do the prayers. For this reason all those who pray the entire world over do turn in the one direction of the Ka'bah at Makkah.
After being ordained to build and sanctify God's Ka'bah, Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) receives in the next verse the command to proclaim the pilgrimage to the Ka'bah, in this manner:
"And proclaim to mankind the Hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant wide mountain highway to perform Hajj." (Qur'an 22:27)
That definitely proves that it was Ibrahim (PBUH) who built the Ka'bah, and that it was also he who proclaimed the pilgrimage, facts that should equally refute the oft-repeated allegation put forth that pilgrimage was some pagan rite invented by the heathen idolaters, and retained by Islam.
Highlight of Pilgrimage:
Initiated by Ibrahim (PBUH) and reflected by the Seal of the Prophets, pilgrimage to the House of God is a unique experience to every true Muslim. For a "Muslim" is essentially the one who shifts from the false to the true religion - from disbelief to belief in God and from multi-god to One-God worship.
This trait made Ibrahim (PBUH) a "Perfect" Muslim when he entered the Pantheon at Babylon, and smashed the idols therein to pieces. Allah entrusted him with building His House at Makkah, and tasked him to proclaim the pilgrimage to it.
Henceforth, pilgrimage to the House of God becomes the most predominant trait of being a Muslim. A haven of absolute freedom, and a sanctuary of perfect peace and security, this Holy Mosque is the only spot on earth set up by Allah for one and all the people alike, without any distinction. It is the House of God wherein all men are equal, none being entitled to own it exclusively.
This is told in these words of Allah:
...And from Al-Masjid-al-Haram at Makkah which We have made open to all men, the dweller in it and the visitor from the country.... "(Qur'an 22:25)
The message of this Surah 22, verses 26-27 named "The pilgrimage" itself, is describing the construction of the Ka'bah and its sanctification, its being the focal point of Tawaf as well as the center of prayers. Thus, the incumbency of pilgrimage to this "first house of One-God worship", etc.
Verses 28-37, do contain the basic elements of the monotheistic religion of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH), wherein one of the main objectives emphasized is the need to celebrate the Name of Allah Alone over the animal - whether ordinarily slaughtered, or offered as sacrifices to Allah, as against those offered to the idolaters' idols, as evidenced particularly by verses 28, 30, 34, 36 and 37.
"Avoiding the abomination of idols", and "neglecting the word that is false" (telling and witnessing falsehood), these two cardinal sins, have been specially prohibited in Verse 30. But the crowning message of unparalleled importance is the commandment: "Hunafa' Lillah (i.e. to worship none but Allah), not associating partners (in worship, etc.) unto Him...", which is the soul and the heart of Monotheism (One-God worship), and the annihilator of all polytheism (multi-god worship).
This last, but not the least message, is the essence of pilgrimage, as also the topmost concern and happiness of every Muslim. The Makkan idolaters too, used to perform the pilgrimage, calling themselves thereby as "Haneefs" (followers of Abraham). And therefore, Muslims are being told to perform the pilgrimage, and call themselves as "Haneefs" but with this difference: "Being true in faith to Allah, and never assigning partners to Him". Thus the sublime truths, the essence of the creed: "There is no deity save God", seem to be beyond the comprehension of idol-worshippers, all over the world, and in all ages.
The Five-time Prayers:
This performance of the pilgrimage --- a colossal feat of monotheism, is closely knit around the Ka'bah and its surrounding environment. It occurs only once a year, but far more important and surpassing is the performance of prayers in Islam, which are equally connected with the Ka'bah.
Prayers are an obligatory duty upon every Muslim. This is why every Muslim anywhere around the world turns towards Allah, facing in the direction of the Ka'bah five times daily.
Of course, the Ka'bah is for outward direction to face in one's prayers, though inwardly, one faces his entire heart, to the Lord of the Worlds Himself. In this manner, Muslims are so intimately related to the Ka'bah through their pilgrimage and prayers, till the last moment of their lives.
Not only this, but every Muslim is made to face the direction of the Ka'bah when breathing his last. Nay, even after death he is buried in his last resting place, i.e. in the grave, so that he faces the same direction of the Ka'bah.
Prayers and Sacrifice:
Both the pilgrimage and the prayers are equally connected with the Ka'bah. And offering an animal and the prayers are major Hajj ceremonies, where both the prayer and sacrifice are special tokens of the single worship of Allah, with both being jointly dedicated to Him.
It is a most sublime dedication the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was asked to offer in the following words:
"Say [O Muhammad]: 'Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists), He has no partner, And of this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims)." (Qur'an 6: 162-163)
And this forms the only straight path, that is the religion of our father Ibrahim (PBUH), which is referred to in the preceding verse:
"Say [O Muhammad] "Truly, my Lord has guided me to a Straight path, a right religion, and the religion of Ibrahim. "(Al-Qur'an 6:161)
On the whole, the Hajj is a unique annual gathering of its own kind. Herein, true Muslims from all over the world; come together on the basis of One-God worship, that is pure monotheism and true Islam. Forgetting their mutual differences of caste, color and social status, they assemble in this international city of Makkah to glorify the One Lord of all creation.
Incidentally, they get a rare opportunity here to discuss together all sorts of communal, religious, economic, social and political problems on an all-world scale, after which no better or more beneficial gathering could be imagined. Such a high, all-embracing congregation has been held every year in the House of Allah for thousands of years now. All these manifold benefits are hinted at in the words:
...That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.." (Qur’an 22:28)
Pilgrimage, therefore, is never a pagan rite, but rather the fulfillment of an incumbent duty concerning One-God worship!
Invitation to Non-muslims:
This is the legacy left behind by Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) for all posterity to accept and follow, and no people of any country or nation, are an exception to that posterity.
Instead of regarding the pilgrimage duty as a pagan rite, people ought to reflect upon their own age-old idolatry, and accept and follow the religion of our father Ibrahim (PBUH).
The hour has come for these very people to proclaim of their own accord: "There is no god worthy of worship except Allah!". May they perform the pilgrimage to the House of Allah in Makkah! and may they offer their prayers regularly facing towards that same House